Monday, May 17, 2010

Tomatoes and Frogs

The mayapples, wildflower plants which grow in shady areas, have been emerging for several weeks. They are also called umbrella plants or Indian apples. Last week they were blooming, pictured above. The blossom is is unique and eye catching. I have never paid very close attention to them before. Mayapples are a good wildflower and a good choice for the shady areas of the yard.
The hummingbirds also started to buzz around last week and the wild columbines began to flower. Now, if the weather would start to cooperate; it has been cold, and rainy for weeks now after a really good spring start in April. We are lucky though, other areas have had some serious weather and numerous fatalities.

But even the frogs around here are tired of the weather and looking forward to warmr and sunnier days. Pictured is a male Green frog or Rana clamitans. A male green frog has a large tympanum (the large spot just down from the eye) which is larger than the eye. A female green frog has a smaller than the eye, or equal to the size of the eye tympanum. And than to BW for the information and corrections on this guy.


According to the National Gardening Association, tomatoes are one of the top, favorite vegetables in North America. Potatoes and onions are also on the top ten list. Last year was a bad year for tomatoes and potatoes because of the late blight, an almost always fatal disease.

Last year the blight was introduced by several box stores, according to reports and spread quickly because of the rainy and cool weather; perfect conditions for a wild fire blight. This year, be sure to get rid of any potatoes which were missed over the fall and winter and begin to emerge. Underground, the late blight fungus can over-winter.

Tomato plants should have been cleaned out of the garden area in the fall and preferably burned if they had symptoms of the late blight. If some were missed, and the weather was cold, freezing and snowy, it is likely the blight spores did not survive. But to be sure collect the dead plants, do not till them under, or compost them; be cautious and burn them or place in a garbage and keep them in the hot sun before they can be disposed.

One good control measure against the late blight, as well as other tomato diseases, is mulch after the soil has warmed. Mulch helps to prevent disease spores in the soil from splashing up on the tomato leaves. Mulch, besides helping to control weeds, also retains moisture in the soil. Tomatoes need about an inch of rain (water) a week. If the tomatoes need to be watered, try soaking the soil rather than overhead watering.

Mulch also helps to prevent cracked tomatoes and blossom end rot. The mulch works to even out the moisture in the soil and both diseases are caused by irregular watering or soil moisture.

Tomato Tricks

Tomato seeds are easy to get started and the seedlings are money savers. It is cheaper to get a package of seeds rather than buying plants. Many times, the seedlings emerge in the compost pile and can be dug out and re-planted successfully. I am always amazed they survived the winter weather.
Naturally, if you had several different species (heirlooms), what the final result is will be a mystery until the end. Hybrid tomatoes are even a more foggy mystery. The seeds will not produce a plant anywhere close to the parent plant.

One day, a friend told me his method of successfully starting tomatoes. I tried it this year and so far so good. I planted excess seeds of a heirloom Brandywine which I have been growing for the ten or twelve years and saving the seeds.. The Brandywines, whose origins I have since lost, might be a late season tomato, usually the end of August, but for my taste are the best and the most abundant.

The seeds were planted in an old plastic flower box on April 15 and placed outside covered in a clear, heavy duty plastic garbage bag. April 15 is early for anything outside around here; it can snow, freeze and be cloudy and cool for days on end. It was like that this year and one night it froze hard; the outside temperature was 26 F. To grow good tomatoes is actually very simple.

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But they are growing just fine, in fact, maybe too good because I'll need to transplant them since I basically threw the seeds on the soil and covered them with dirt/compost. Sunny windows can be used as well as the top of the refrigerator for easy sprouting, but for my money and space, outside in that old flower box seems to be working. We'll be tracking the progress throughout the season. They'll likely be planted in the garden on Memorial Weekend,well, weather permitting.

Good Blogs to Read

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden

Simply Snickers

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pests: Fake and Real

The dandelion is more than an obnoxious weed; it is, rather, an important wildflower, and not a pest at all. It is one of the first to bloom providing a much needed food source for the honey bees and other native pollinators. It is also one of the last to bloom as the season ends and winter is knocking on the front door. It is the last meal many pollinators have.

The honey bees have been loosing for the last couple years to a mysterious disease called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD for short. Researchers still don't know what is causing this fatal disease which has wiped out countless hives. It could be the result of a mulitude factors including chemical sprays, a new invasive mite or fungus, or any combination of environmental factors.

At the same time, researchers have noticed a noticeable decline in native pollinators, mason bees for example and other pollinating insects. All of these pollinators are responsible for much of the food we eat. Some suggest that as much as every third bite of food we eat is the result of pollinators like the honey bees and native bees.

This has been a long hard winter for the honey bees in northwestern Pennsylvania, according to Charles Vorisek, the president of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Beekeepers Association. In a recent email (May 7), he told me that the thirty member association has lost 66 percent of the hives. That means that out of 471 hives, only 161 survived. Vorisek called that pitiful. And he is right, that is a serious drop and should concern home gardeners, larger farms and homeowners.

The pollinators are needed for many home vegetable crops particularly the vines such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and melons. The pollinators also help boost yields with carrots, broccoli, onions and they are needed for seed savers for such vegetables as leafy greens and lettuce. Tomatoes and peppers do much better when they are also pollinated by the bees.

According to the USDA, the dandelion is one of the healthiest foods around. It can be used in a variety of ways. Some prefer the roots, others the leaves, and some the flowers. It can be used in salads, soups and stews, brewed as a coffee or a tea, used to make wine or a rustic beer. For more on the health benefits of the dandelion, see this link. For more information on recipes, click this link.

Dandelions, as an early spring flower, are important for the pollinators like the honey bee and native bees. They are more important than a neatly manicured lawn which doesn't do much for the food we all eat. Some sprays and chemicals used in dandelion control are deadly to all insects good and bad; there is no reason for a scorched earth policy against this ancient herb/wildflower. Besides chemical sprays are a waste of money; guess what will return next year minus the insects?

Certainly, the dandelion grows where it shouldn't and where it is not wanted. There are natural controls, organic and natural sprays, and hand digging. Sometimes, mowing the lawn before the dandelion goes to seed helps, but the wildflower does have an ability to escape the mower blades, although frequent mowing does help. It helps to remove the seed heads before the seeds start to spread; cut the dandelion as it goes to seed. Those seeds go everywhere, ask any kid or remember when.

There is just no reason to kill everything just because of an early yellow flower. The dandelion is an imaginary pest, it is a good plant when under control.

Mosquito's :the Real Summer Pest

The ancient mosquito is probably summer's worst pest and a dangerous insect. They can transmit any number of very serious diseases, some of which can be fatal, to humans, pets and wildlife.

One of the first steps in getting rid of these things is to eliminate standing water in pots, pails, old tires, anything that holds water. The mosquito, and there are hundreds of different species, all need water to breed.

Other actions to take include planting plants which help to repel the mosquito. Click the above mosquito link for more plant information.

Okra - a pod with a dandelion-like reputation.

While not considered a pest but regarded as not edible by some and a highly regarded vegetable by others, it is a good garden plant. Okra can be used as a defensive garden weapon against the dreaded Japanese Beetle, click the okra link for more information.

I plant three every year. It is an attractive plant and besides I like it in stewed tomatoes and other dishes. They aren't even in the cold frame just yet. It has been miserable cold, windy and too rainy.


Some animals in the garden area are good, like the turtle pictured above. Snakes, toads, frogs and birds are also good. But then there are others which can be pests.
Unwanted animals from cats to possum's also like to tromp through vegetable and flower garden's; some can cause a lot of destruction. Read about my solution, which I sort of stumbled upon and had some fun writing. How to Keep Wildlife Out of the Garden.

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Good Blogs to Read and Follow

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden

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Vincent di Fondi

Monday, May 3, 2010

May: The Discovery Month

The Full Moon last week (April 28) brought a hard frost to the region for a couple nights. One of the names for the April moon is the Full Fish Moon. The next full moon is on May 27. The name had nothing to do with trout season opening; stocking trout is rather new. But see native trout below.
The upcoming May moon is called the Full Flower Moon.
It was called this long before flower shows, seed companies and garden centers. The woodlands are alive right now with dozens of wild flowers. The trout lilies were first, followed by the Mayapples and Jack in the Pulpit plants.
Mayapples are strange, almost tropical looking plants. They are also called Indian apples and the umbrella plant. They do produce a small fruit which looks like a yellow crabapple in late summer. They can be used when fully ripe in jellies, sauces, pies and to make a juice drink. Discover more about this unique plant and how it can be used, here.
Marsh marigolds are also blooming at about the same time as the mayapples. These bog plants last a long time, are hardy and attractive. They make a good choice to plant in wet areas.

Flowers, especially the brilliant annuals can, and perhaps should be, always included in the veggie garden. Annual flowers attract many good insects, some repel harmful insects, while others are good companion plants and help the veggies grow. Annual flowers and herbs are good to have and May is the perfect time to get them in the garden.
May is also a good time to plant and think about fall. A fall vegetable garden can help save money and extend the summer harvest. May is the time to get the soil ready for a late summer planting. Many cover crops can be planted now which help to enrich the soil. For more information on getting ready for a fall vegetable, see this article.
Sure warm weather is here or at least at the front door, thankfully, and so are some pesky insects, like mosquito which can be dangerous because of the diseases they can transmit. There are some effective natural controls and plants that can be used to thwart the insect. For more information on some good plants for mosquito, click on this article.

Native Trout

Trout season opened in many states over the last several weeks. In Pennsylvania, the opening day in the western parts of the state opened on April 17. Trout fishing is immensely popular in Pennsylvania and estimates indicate that about a million anglers went to streams and creeks.
Most went after stocked trout which are bred and raised in Pennsylvania fish hatcheries. However, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is beginning to promote more of the native trout. The agency is seeking to identify creeks and streams which have naturally reproducing trout.
Once a stream is designated as a wild trout stream, it can be fully protected under existing laws governing pollution and water inflows. The new attention to native, wild populations is partially linked to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale beds.
The drilling has been blamed on several degraded streams and rivers in the state since discharged water, used in the drilling process has been dumped back on the ground surface. Millions of gallons of water are used in the drilling process to get the gas out of the ground. The new technologies used by the drilling operators promises to be a significant economic boom for many rural regions and have set up something of a conflict between the industry, anglers and environmentalists. It is a good issue to follow.
No one is claiming a Gulf of Mexico scenario but the potential for an environmental disaster remains high and the problem needs to be reasonably addressed. Here is a great link to further understand the current situation.


About the same times as the mayapples emerge, the trilliums begin to bloom. May has the best flower show around in woodland areas. The leeks are also in their prime.

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Good Blogs to Read

On Your Way to the Top

New York' s Southern Tier

Urban Veggie

Vincent di Fondi

Simply Snickers